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Education Equality Act would make student-centered, teacher-friendly reforms
Senate Majority Coalition Caucus members today introduced landmark reforms that would return state government to the role of primary provider for Washington’s K-12 schools while finally connecting school funding with the actual cost of educating students.
The MCC’s Education Equality Act is the first complete, ready-for-voting solution proposed by lawmakers since the state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. Washington. The 2012 ruling highlighted what was already known: decades of putting other services ahead of schools caused Washington’s 295 school districts to rely too much on local property tax-levy money to cover costs that should be the state’s responsibility. The Legislature has until April 1 to agree on a new funding approach that takes effect before 2018.
Sen. John Braun, as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is the Senate budget leader, and was one of the MCC members to serve recently on a bipartisan Joint Education Funding Task Force. That group managed to obtain educator-compensation information that was denied to lawmakers for more than a year, and was one of the final pieces needed to complete the MCC plan.
Braun said the Education Equality Act would not only result in full state-level funding of public schools but also address factors that have made the K-12 system inequitable for students, teachers and taxpayers.
“Our plan is student-centered and teacher-friendly. It’s based on fair and transparent funding and promotes local control and accountability. By any credible measure, this is a progressive approach that should eliminate the educational-opportunity gap, and the associated social injustices, caused by inconsistent district-level funding,” said Braun, R-Centralia.
“It also responds to concerns teachers have about compensation, and the concerns districts have about hiring as well as the so-called ‘levy cliff.’ These issues are outside of the Legislature’s constitutional mandate but are part of the larger picture, so it makes sense to include them in our set of reforms,” he added.
Under the MCC plan, legislators set a statewide per-student funding level that puts Washington in the upper ranks nationally; require each school district to levy the same local property-tax rate and put that revenue toward the per-student amount; and allocate state funds to cover the difference between the per-student standard and the local funding.
The per-student funding level would be higher, and the state’s contribution would increase accordingly, to cover additional services for children who have special needs, or are homeless, or are not native English speakers.
The benefits of the Education Equality Act, Braun explained, include a consistent state investment in each Washington student regardless of ZIP Code, and an end to wild swings in local school-levy rates – caused by varying property values between districts – which are inequitable to taxpayers and contribute to disparities in teacher pay.
In addition, the MCC proposes ending the statewide pay grid that limits teacher compensation based on service years and education and does not account for the local cost of living. This would allow districts more flexibility and control when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers.
“The governor and others talk about brand new taxes to pay for schools, even though revenue from an energy tax or a tax on certain forms of income can’t possibly qualify as the ‘regular and dependable’ source the Supreme Court expects,” Braun said. “Our plan relies on a traditional funding source that meets the ‘regular and dependable’ standard set by the Supreme Court, and is familiar to families and employers in our state.
“Making up for decades of inattention and the resulting inequities isn’t easy, but this approach checks all the boxes. It’s sweeping, it’s straightforward, and it’s sensible.”
“The Campaign for Student Success applauds the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus for introducing the Education Equality Act to address McCleary and focusing on student-focused solutions for all students, attracting and retaining great educators and accountability and support for our schools. Student-based funding is a step in the right direction to meet our fundamental challenge of ensuring that our education system gives all students a great education. We’re encouraged that the Senate leadership is focusing on the standards of Funding & Fairness, Talent and Accountability put forth by our campaign. We commend this proposal for driving real legislative progress, and we look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to ensure that solutions meet the need for a long-term, equitable outcome for all students. McCleary presents us with a unique opportunity to change the future for Washington’s kids and we must take action now.”
– Campaign for Student Success
“I am very pleased to see this latest legislative plan to address the requirements of the Supreme Court and to continue the Legislature’s progress toward equitable and ample funding for our public schools. This is a creative approach and I now look forward to all parties coming together to work out their differences on behalf of all Washingtonians. We all want our kids and grandkids to have the best education possible. I hope this proposal leads to a productive session that satisfies the McCleary mandates so we can move on to higher education issues.”
– Rich Cummins, Ph.D., President of Columbia Basin College
The Senate Republican Caucus released details about its Education Equality Act. Below is a statement from State Superintendent Chris Reykdal on the proposal.
Olympia – Jan. 27, 2017 – We’re at a crossroad on education funding. The state Supreme Court has said the state isn’t meeting its Constitutional duty to amply fund basic education. We need solutions to this problem – big, bold solutions.
The Caucus’s proposal shows that Republicans are serious about solving the funding problem and that it understands additional resources will be needed.
The proposal itself is very comprehensive. It would create a guaranteed funding level for each and every student. The level would be enhanced for students in special programs, such as English learners or students in special education or those who are low-income or homeless, recognizing those students’ additional needs. That funding level would be paid for, in part, by a state property tax capped at $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value.
I appreciate the emphasis on accountability and on providing additional support for underachieving students. Our graduation rates are inching upward. That pace must quicken, though, and paying teachers supplemental contracts for their work with struggling students is one way to achieve that.
I also appreciate the emphasis on teacher recruitment and retention. We have a critical teacher shortage caused, in part, because all teachers need market pay.
In the coming weeks and months we will work with the House and Senate to create a bipartisan solution that improves student achievement, empowers educators and maximizes local control.
This week Republican legislative leaders had their first meeting of the session with statehouse reporters. As expected the press corps asked first about education funding – including, when will they see a plan from Republicans to fully fund our K-12 schools?
A freelance writer wondered whether the plan would come in a week or two, or would we “wait until April,” meaning late in the session. The April reference struck me as something I would expect from certain Democrats, not a reporter who is supposed to be objective and professional – so I barked at him, which was out of character.
What I should have said, being a longtime Green Bay Packers fan, was something like the line famously used by Aaron Rodgers, the Pack’s quarterback, when questioned a couple years ago about his team’s production.
“Relax. We’re going to be OK,” Rodgers said. His team, 1-2 at the time, went on to win 11 of its remaining 13 games.
My answer should have been more like this: Our plan will be ready soon — sooner than later. It’s going to be OK. We will get this job done.
Democrat lawmakers put some big-spending numbers and costly concepts on paper via the recently concluded Joint Education Funding Task Force. Some have used that to take we-did-our-homework-you-didn’t shots at Republicans. But completing the homework is not the same as passing the test. When our Senate majority puts its plan on the table, I want it to be a fully baked plan that is ready to pass the test, meaning win a majority vote.
If I wanted to fire back at Democrats, I would remind them how our situation is largely of their party’s making. Democrats controlled the state budget for the better part of 30 years before our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus began leading the Senate in 2013. Their spending choices, which favored non-education things over schools by a 2-1 ratio, created the conditions that led to the 2012 McCleary decision. The MCC-led Senate has flipped that, devoting new revenue to education at a rate of more than 3-1. We have restored K-12 to its rightful place in the budget.
I would also note how, in 2013 and 2015, the governor blocked the Legislature’s request to collect K-12 compensation data. We needed it to understand, in dollars and cents, what “full funding” of education really means. Only because of the education-funding task force do we finally have that information.
Instead, I’ll simply say that Republicans aren’t about to leave schools in the lurch. But we want a solution that lasts indefinitely, and we recognize that the Legislature really has just one chance to get it right.
As I said to the reporters, our plan will be ready when it’s ready. Let me say here that it will be ready very soon.
It’s going to be OK. We’re going to get this done.